Presbytery of Greater Atlanta Announces A Response to the “New Fellowship” Letter
Atlanta, GA – February 22, 2011
From: The Council of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ-
On February 2, 2011 many members of our Presbytery received a letter circulating around the PC(USA) stating that the PC(USA) is “deathly ill” and inviting us to a conference to consider new structures for the future, including a new fellowship. This letter raises both important issues and some serious concerns, so the Council of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta feels it is important to respond.
While we trust the authors’ desire to seek the mind of Christ, we also recognize that not all Presbyterians experience the impending death they identify. Like many denominations, the PC (USA) is facing significant membership loss and serious divisions, which call us to reexamine our faithfulness to God’s calling. Our Reformed heritage calls us to continual reformation, which may require radical reformation in our 21st century context.
We believe that God is not finished with us yet. We believe that Christ still does and will do amazing mission and ministry through the PC(USA). We believe that both Scripture and our constitution call us to exercise mutual forbearance, corporate discernment, and a common mission. And we believe that we live out that calling best when we live it out together, despite deep disagreements. Indeed, the manner in which we disagree is in itself a witness to the world of the power of Christ’s love, and any movement toward schism degrades that witness.
God’s Word in Scripture is the foundation of these beliefs. “God…reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Paul reminds us: “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and we were all made to drink of one
Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Even if there are parts of Christ’s body we might like to declare apart from it, even if we ourselves would like to separate from it, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Corinthians 12:18). Scripture invites us: “Let us no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (Romans 14:13). We believe that working for unity is central, not peripheral, to living out the good news of Jesus Christ.
In light of our calling and our present reality, the Council of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta hereby invites all members of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and Presbyteries of the PC(USA) to reaffirm our commitment to create space for God’s vision coming to pass through:
…exhibiting a radical grace towards one another, seeking to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34),
…living by the principles of our constitution as found in G.30401:
a. to a new openness to the presence of God in the Church and in the world, to more fundamental obedience, and to a more joyous celebration in worship and work;
b. to a new openness to its own membership, by affirming itself as a community of diversity, becoming in fact as well as in faith a community of women and men of all ages, races, and conditions, and by providing for inclusiveness as a visible sign of the new humanity;
c. to a new openness to the possibilities and perils of its institutional forms in order to ensure the faithfulness and usefulness of these forms to God’s activity in the world;
…reminding one another that the bond that holds us together consists not of like-mindedness, the Board of Pensions, nor the Book of Order but nothing less than the call of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit,
…continuing the creative missional work that has already begun in our midst through Macedonian ministries and our new primary focus on congregational vitality as a means of pouring out Christ’s living water out into the world,
…preserving a deep and wide community of Christ through refraining from institutionalizing our divisions since a complete breach diminishes all of us and impedes fresh understandings of God’s will,
…opening ourselves to conversations with disaffected congregations to seek ways we might continue to be community together,
…seeking the wisdom, prayers, and decisions of congregations, Presbyteries, and the denomination as we discern how we might live together into God’s will.
In conclusion, we trust that any wisdom is not ours, that our community is a gift from God for the sake of the world, and that our hope is not in our decisions but in the name of Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
The Council of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta